Not So Modern Drummer continues to celebrate the legendary Buddy Rich in 2017. Recognizing the 100th anniversary of his birth… Contributing their personal recollections and commentary on Buddy Rich are: Carmine Appice, Les DeMerle, John JR Robinson, Tim Smith, and Ed Soph.
Buddy was my idol that became a friend…
What can you say about Buddy, he was the most amazing drummer of our time. With just pure talent he became the most influential drummer of all. No lessons needed. Buddy opened up for my group Vanilla Fudge in late 1960’s. I was afraid to be on the stage with him. His reputation as a drummer preceded him as well as being difficult to deal with, scared the hell out of me. That night I realized that I had my audience, and Buddy had his. Later in the mid 1970s Buddy played Los Angeles at the Starwood, a well-known club in Hollywood, CA. My manager thought it would be a good idea to play with Buddy, and take some fours… Like a cool show featuring a new generation/old generation show for Cable TV.After fighting with him about the idea, I agreed. Then was happy to hear that the whole idea had been scrapped. I went to see Buddy that night and met him through his daughter Cathy. He told me that he was pissed at me for trying to challenge him to a drum duel like another A—hole, Ginger Baker, to get some free press. After going in with my brother Vinny, we smoked a peace pipe that Buddy had pulled out of his pocket, and we were friends until he passed.
In the end I loved Buddy as a drummer and a person. Hung out with him, and partied with him. It was amazing getting to know your idol. There’s much more of my experiences with Buddy in my autobiography “STICK it !!! My life of Sex, Drums, and Rock ‘N’ Roll”. If anyone is interested you can get it on my website: carmineappice.com. They come personalized and autographed or get it at Amazon. I have some great other stories about Buddy including how the Muppet Show happened !!!
The first time I witnessed Buddy’s playing live was in the early 1960s at Madison Square Garden in N.Y.C. It was a jazz festival that the New York Daily News had presented. My Dad brought me to hear Buddy on a bill that also included Stan Kenton. Dizzy Gillespie, and many other heavyweights.
Buddy came onto a revolving stage with his sextet which included his discovery – ‘a very young’ Mike Mainieri on vibes and Sam Mort on flute…It just totally blew me away. The recordings of that small band “Playtime” and “Blues Caravan” are among my favorite Buddy Rich sides to this day. His solo that night was magic, and the man was a complete blur.
Here was a true genius at work. His ideas, control, fire, taste were all happening and swinging like crazy. Well, from that night on I was hooked on studying everything that Buddy Rich did and was about.
The years went on and in 1967, Willard Alexander was booking me with my jazz group titled ‘ Les Demerle Sound 67’. He called one day to let me know he wanted me to be the opening act for the Harry James band at the River Boat in N.Y.C. It was a great break for me in many ways working opposite Harry every night…I got to know the man on a personal level. At the end of that gig, he said my playing reminded him of Buddy’s who had just left him to start his own band in Las Vegas. He also said if I ever wanted the gig in his band and there was an opening that he’d like to have me join up with him.
I joined Harry James’ band in 1970 to find there was no drum book due to the fact that Buddy only had to hear a chart once and he played it down pat. I got to play and solo, and even record some charts Buddy played and recorded. Check out the solo on the King James version, and the tune Cherokee on Sheffield Lab records. I stayed with Harry James for 12 years and one of the many highlights was playing Carnegie Hall with James opening up for Buddy’s band in 1974 and again in 1975 at the Kool Jazz Festival. Afterwards, Buddy invited us uptown to his club ‘Buddy’s Place’ to hang out and jam.
I listen to everybody and learn from all the great players, but for his tremendous talent and his contribution to the art of jazz…I will always single out Buddy as my strongest musical influence. I’ve been very lucky in this lifetime to have played with a living legend, Mr. Harry James and through Harry getting to know Buddy…This is something I’ll be forever thankful for. He was and will always be the main man in my book. I will always love and respect my friend and inspiration…The Great Buddy Rich !!
JOHN "J.R." ROBINSON
As a young child, my mother Helen would sit me down in front of the HiFi and enjoy “vinyl night”. She would play a multitude of big band and swing records. She was the one who taught me the meaning of the word “swing”. One record was probably Tommy Dorsey with a young but smoking Buddy Rich. She would tell me over and over, “listen to him swing”! I was bitten by the drum/music bug! I started playing piano then at age 5 and was pounding on everything switching to drums around age 7.
Buddy was our ‘rock star’ idol. His talent shined brighter than most and his simple drumming skills [to him] drove all of us crazy when we all tried to emulate. His command of the single stroke roll is still to this day, second to none. As we grew up in bands we all referenced his wonderful big band when he became a headliner. My favorite band of his was the 1966/1967 big band. There was fire, energy, compassion and just smoking swing during that era.
Thanks to YouTube we can dial in to any era of Buddy. But, do it the way I do it, through vinyl. Vinyl sounds so much better today, and I sell it enough to all my friends. It’s the experience that got all of my generation to fall in love with Buddy and others of his ilk.
These pictures are from a 1973 clinic/concert Buddy did at Marshalltown, Iowa High School. My cousin Mark and I are behind the camera. Notice we keep his cigarette butt! There was some stupid individual who asked Buddy, “are you better than Louie Bellson?” Buddy responded “with which hand?” I think that guy got boooed hard.
1968. My dad had just bought me a brand new drum set - a Rogers Londoner V.- Small R - Ball & socket mounts -Butcher block finish -Dynasonic chrome-over brass snare drum - Swiv-o-matic bass drum pedal…Just like I saw in the catalog. Wow.
I was playing on a three-piece silver sparkle Slingerland kit up to then. I already had a private teacher and was really serious about drums. Because I was now heading to high school, he wanted me to have a new kit…My father was a good man.
Shortly after bringing home the Rogers kit (which btw, I still have), my brother bought me a present. He said, “if you’re going to study drums, you need to listen to this guy.” Well, “this guy” was Buddy Rich. The present was the LP “Mercy Mercy” The Buddy Rich Big Band, Live at Caesar’s Palace.” (I still have that one, too) I remember using the photos from the album to help me set up my new kit correctly. Then instantly after the first listening, like being hit by a lightning bolt, nothing was the same! EVERYthing about drums and drumming changed. Within that precious album, my young ears learned what playing in various time signatures and feels sounded like. In my attempts to “play along” to all the tracks a sense of groove and interaction between the players became evident even then. “Mercy, Mercy” and “Big Mama Cass” were great examples of that loose jazzy-funk feel. “Preach and Teach,” “Goodbye Yesterday” and “Ode to Billie Joe” taught me how to play and feel in 3. The blues feels of “Acid Truth” and “Chelsea Bridge” really helped this eager drummer dig for that elusive “touch.” And his solos? They speak for themselves and still do. Untouchable, but always inspiring. A small example: his solo at the end of “Channel One; Suite,” check out how seamless the press roll is! It’s a hiss of white noise! And ONE bass drum mind you! Many with two couldn’t come close. This is just a tiny taste of the countless times his drumming exemplified that relentless drive for excellence.
I’ve been playing drums since the tender age of five. Prior to Buddy, my influences included Tupperware, lobster pots, wooden spoons, aluminum pie plates, Ginger Baker, Carmine Appice, the Motown drummers, Mitch Mitchell, Sandy Nelson and Tony Williams. I got into Ringo some time later, then Steve Gadd, Jeff Porcaro and Vinnie Colaiuta…but it was Buddy Rich…none better; then or since. Drove the band like he stole the freight train!
Buddy’s playing became the benchmark - what drumming was all about. I don’t know one drummer that does not list him as an influence. When you break down how we play; there’s technique, accuracy, finesse, speed, feel, sensitivity, drive, urgency, patience, musicality and a whole lot of other things, too. Overall though, there’s a sense of listening that…well…either you do or you don’t. Buddy had it in spades with no equal. That’s my biggest takeaway. From whisper quiet to a Midwest tornado; Rich maneuvered, side-stepped, danced, tip-toed, stomped on, hammered, slip-slide and kissed his way through every song with flawless, graceful execution. He knew every note and every rhythm of every player on every arrangement; a tip every drummer should take to heart.
I only got to see him once as a younger man up here in New England. A college age boy sometimes doesn’t remember much, but witnessing Buddy Rich drum is a tattoo burned deep into my soul. Always there, always cookin.’ Thanks for the ride Buddy. You still make me want to play better…every day.
-- Tim Smith
As for Buddy Rich… I asked Ray Brown, the bassist, if there was a drummer with whom he always felt comfortable; a sneaky way of asking, “Who is your favorite drummer?”
He replied, “Buddy”. Why?, I asked. “Because we both felt the time in the same place…on the front of the beat.” Then, Ray added, “Buddy was the only musical genius I ever met. He had the most incredible ears of anyone I ever played with.”
Years ago, at the Wichita Jazz Festival, Louie Bellson and I watched Buddy from the wings of the stage. Buddy played one of those fills that made the hair stand up on the back of your neck. He looked over at us and shrugged his shoulders, almost as if to imply, “Where in the hell did that come from!”
Woody Herman’s band, with whom I played, frequently had double bills with Buddy’s band. He was always cordial and, on occasion, humorously caustic. I recall one gig in Waterbury, CT when I was using an 18” bass drum because my 22” was in the shop. Buddy walked past and said, “Hey, Soph, when are you going to get some real drums and stop playing those toys?”
Buddy was an incredible small group player. His work with the Nat King Cole Trio (with Lester Young and Nat, no bass) is remarkable. His brush playing is absolutely beautiful. So, too, his small band recordings for Argo, Emarcy, and Verve show the scope of the man’s musical artistry. He was a genius, no doubt about it.